Late Blackhawks comeback falls short

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Late Blackhawks comeback falls short

PITTSBURGH, Pa. The Chicago Blackhawks final 20 minutes was exactly what they were looking for against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unfortunately, the first 40 werent.

Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg scored, but the Blackhawks lost Marcus Kruger for the final two periods to injury and the game to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2 on Tuesday night. It was the Blackhawks first regulation loss in the month of December, and denied them at least a point for the first time in their last nine games.

I dont know what we were playing like in the first 40 minutes, said Stalberg, who also assisted on Toews goal. We basically handed them two points tonight.

But the bigger concern was Kruger. The center was hit hard near the boards by Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland about midway through the first period. Replays showed that Engelland appeared to leave his feet and hit the Blackhawks center in the head with his forearm.

(Kruger) was on the bench to start the second. A couple of times I had to call him and he didnt end up getting out there, coach Joel Quenneville said. Hes OK now. A high hit, a tough area, he was in a tough spot.

John Scott came to Krugers defense, fighting and bloodying Engelland. Quenneville said Scott did the right thing, but Scott was nevertheless given a two-minute instigator and a 10-minute misconduct. That gave the Pens a power play, which Chris Kunitz converted for a 1-0 lead.

Weve got to find a way to kill that for him, Stalberg said of Scott. John does what hes supposed to do and stands up for a guy, so it was good to see that.

Scott said Im always going to stand up for my teammates. Anybody else on this team wouldve done the same thing.

But the Blackhawks were nevertheless down, as they spent too much of the first 40 minutes in the penalty box. Pittsburgh went on seven power plays, although they scored on just that Scott one. Nevertheless, the Penguins would turn that 1-0 lead into a 3-0 advantage by the end of the second period. James Neal and Tyler Kennedy added the other two Pens goals.

Then the Blackhawks woke up offensively in the third. Toews scored just 49 seconds into the final frame and Stalberg added his goal about five minutes later. The Blackhawks outshot the Penguins 19-4 in the final 20 minutes, and hit a few posts, too.

The Blackhawks final shot came on a power play with about 91 seconds remaining in regulation, but they werent able to convert.

The Blackhawks biggest player came to a teammates defense. And the Blackhawks nearly came back from the first 40 so-so minutes. The former couldnt be avoided. The latter couldve been.

We won the third but its frustrating we couldnt do that for a full 60 minutes, Stalberg said. We have to find a way to be more prepared. We cant start like that against a team like this. Theyre too good and theyre going to take advantage of us.

Briefly

Brent Seabrook played after being hit from behind on Sunday. He played just over 23 minutes, with six blocked shots and three shots on goal.

Marian Hossas secondary assist on Stalbergs goal extended his point streak to six games.

Patrick Sharps point streak was snapped at nine games.

What to make of Blackhawks blockbuster deals

What to make of Blackhawks blockbuster deals

Before the clock struck noon on a day Chicago was hosting its first ever NHL Draft, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman sent shockwaves throughout the city and hockey world by completing a pair of blockbuster trades within an hour of each other.

The first was dealing three-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona, and the second involving Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad in a swap of talented wingers with Columbus.

This comes two days after the Blackhawks announced Marian Hossa will miss the 2017-18 campaign with a progressive skin disorder. That's three core players gone in the blink of an eye.

Who's ready for a new era in Chicago?

Rather than maximizing a championship window that was viewed as closing quickly, Bowman has elected to take a long-term approach and it might not be the worst idea.

There's no doubt the loss of Hjalmarsson, who remains one of the most underrated blue liners in the league, and Panarin, who finished in the top-10 in scoring among forwards in both of his first two NHL seasons, will sting.

But there's a good chance the Blackhawks wouldn't have been able to reward them with the pay raises they deserve after their contracts expire following the 2018-19 season, and that certainly played a huge role in the decision to head in a new direction.

In reacquiring Saad, the Blackhawks finally give Jonathan Toews that reliable left-winger they've desperately lacked since Saad was shipped out of town in 2015, providing balance throughout the top-six. Saad is also locked up for the next four years at a $6 million cap hit that will look better as time goes by.

For the last two years, the Blackhawks were known as a one-line scoring team thanks to the chemistry developed between Patrick Kane and Panarin.

The second-half emergence of Nick Schmaltz and familiarity Kane has developed with center Artem Anisimov has allowed Panarin to become expendable in their quest to solve their top-line woes. And that's not a bad consolation line, especially when you consider top prospect Alex DeBrincat could also be in the cards as early as this season.

On the back end, the Blackhawks receive a 24-year-old defenseman in Connor Murphy, who's also signed for the next four years at a $3.85 million cap hit, and carries a right-handed shot, something they've needed more of in the organization. While there will certainly be growing pains under Joel Quenneville, Murphy's ceiling is fairly high and gives the Blackhawks some speed coming out of their own zone.

In making both of these deals, the Blackhawks got younger in their attempt to keep up with a league that relies more on speed, addressing a few areas that Nashville exposed during their first-round sweep of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

And while they may have sacrificed two key players in the short-term, the Blackhawks executed a plan that should keep the perceived championship window open longer than expected.

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

When the Blackhawks found Artemi Panarin, they found a talent who was NHL ready from the start, who found instant chemistry with Patrick Kane and earned a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. It was also a tremendous panacea for a team that couldn’t pull off a deal to keep Brandon Saad, who was the power forward that fit in beautifully in the Blackhawks’ top six.

On Friday, the Blackhawks brought Saad back and dealt Panarin to do it.   

Saad returns to the Blackhawks, who also acquire goaltender Anton Forsberg, in exchange for Panarin and Tyler Motte. The Blackhawks also get the Blue Jackets’ fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft and the Columbus gets Chicago’s sixth-round pick from this weekend’s draft. Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the deal. The Blackhawks inherit Saad’s deal, which has four years remaining at a $6 million cap hit. Panarin was about to enter his current deal, which is two years with a $6 million cap hit. This is key for the immediate future; when Panarin’s latest deal is up, if he keeps up at his current pace, he’ll likely sign for a lot more.

[MORE: Blackhawks deal Hjalmarsson to Arizona]

The Blackhawks have missed Saad terribly since his departure. The team has struggled to find consistent line mates with Jonathan Toews, especially at that left-wing position. They did fairly well with Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik flanking Toews this season but it wasn’t as strong as the Saad-Toews combination. So it looks like the Blackhawks’ top line will be solidified again.

Now, what about the second line? As good as Toews and Saad’s chemistry was, Panarin’s and Kane’s was dynamite. The two had their respective skill, which they flashed often, and their ability to read each other was evident from the start. The Blackhawks’ second line was as consistent and steady the past two seasons as the top line was during Saad’s time here.

So, there are changes. The Blackhawks will absolutely miss what Panarin brings. But as far as bringing back a former Blackhawks player who could help in the present, getting the 24-year-old Saad back will be very beneficial.